By O’Brian Mwiinga
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday accused the Zambian government of failing to protect rural communities in central Zambia.
Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu, the principal researcher of the New York-based rights group, told journalists that some commercial farmers dubiously acquired thousands of hectares of land, and in the process displaced more than 10,000 communities.
For example, Nnoko-Mewanu explained, commercial farmers in Serenje district in Zambia’s Central Province, acquired large pieces of lands ranging from 150 to more than 5,000 hectares.
"In the process of acquiring land, the legal provisions meant to protect the environment and ensuring compensation for local communities who lose land were ignored," he said.
The 101-page report titled ‘Forced to Leave: Commercial Farming and Displacement in Zambia’ explores the impact of commercial farming on the residents’ right to health, housing, livelihood, food, water, security and education.
According to the report, the Zambian government is promoting large-scale agricultural investments to diversify the economy and reduce rural poverty.
In the process, the government neglected the land acquisition law, resulting in some commercial farmers operating on large pieces of land where roads, irrigation and infrastructure, to benefit several farms, were to be built, it adds.
Zambia rejected these allegations.
“The affected communities were informed long before farming investors visited the site,” said Reynold Shula, principal agriculture specialist in the Agriculture Ministry.
The evicted resident maintained that the government had not informed them about their plans.
“We only came to know about the eviction, the day the investors moved to the site with their bulldozers,” said Elizabeth Phiri, 62, who was present at the launch of the report.
She added that some residents who refused to vacate the villages were driven away by force.
Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) president Javis Zimba described the action by commercial farmers as unfortunate, but asked for time to verify the report by the HRW.
“Commercial farmers are also our members, but we cannot make a conclusive reaction unless we visit the affected areas to get first-hand information,” Zimba told Anadolu Agency in a telephone interview.